Finding a John Cage moment on the subway

With this year marking the centenary of composer John Cage’s birth, the New York Times runs a piece about “Cage moments” that “occur when happenstance kicks in, and surprising musical experiences take form, seemingly out of nowhere. They can happen anywhere at any time.” Writer Allan Kozinn found his during a New York City subway ride that evoked the composer’s 4’33”:

Typically, most of the noise you hear comes from the subway itself: its din drowns out conversations, and people tend to stare at their feet, or at whatever they are reading, and listen to their portable music players. But this Tuesday evening just about all the people were talking, and working hard to drown out both the subway and the chats taking place around them …

I would normally have tuned all this out, but instead I sat back, closed my eyes and did what Cage so often recommended: I listened. I made no effort to separate the strands of conversation or to focus on what people were saying. I was simply grabbed by the sheer mass of sound, human and mechanical. It sounded intensely musical to me, noisy as it was, and once I began hearing it that way, I couldn’t stop.

This fall, Pomona College is celebrating Cage, who attended the College from 1928 to 1930, in a slightly less ethereal fashion. The Music Department has organized a series of events that include a 100th birthday party, organ, keyboard, percussion and orchestra performances, and a special Cage-O-Rama performance. The Pomona College Museum of Art, meanwhile, will be showing some of Cage’s watercolors.

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